As someone who’s never hunted a single day in his life, Christina Clusiau and Shaul Scwartz’s aptly named documentary Trophy illuminates the act as something appalling and predatory. As someone who voraciously loves red meat and doesn’t blink for a second to ponder on the origins of a certain delicious feast served before him, it indicts my ignorance.
Yet Trophy goes even further than that as it educates and enlightens about the rapid progression of illegal poaching in South Africa and the sweeping ramifications of “big game hunting” across the globe. Basically, if one is looking for an education on this subject, then Trophy delivers, albeit in a wholesale and safe manner.
Following two distinct threads which include the conservationism in the face of illegal poaching and the business industry side to hunting, Trophy eventually hones in on a few faces and tells the global story through their divisive opinions and lifestyles.
Texas sheep breeder and farmer Philip Glass represents the human side of the tale. Following him as he travels overseas and pays an established company good money to big game hunt (and complete a sort of holy tree of animal trophy heads), Glass is the one we’re supposed to dislike immediately. While watching other people laugh and brag about wanting to hunt in order to collect more alligator skin shoes, purses and belts, Trophy does an interesting thing and reflects Glass as a thoughtful and calculated proponent of hunting.
His descriptions of “hunter’s remorse” and the (perhaps staged?) emotion he releases after finally capturing one of his prized relics, speaks loudly to the honorable tradition of man’s dominion over animals that has governed our world since the inception of time. In soft-spoken tones and methodical reasoning, he even comes off as more attuned to the facts than the shouting strands of people protesting “animal killing” along a Las Vegas strip.
The other aspect to this story are the men fighting, albeit with different methods, in South Africa and Zimbabwe. John Hume, the proprietor of the world’s largest rhinoceros farm, is given a bulk of the film’s second half as he battles in court for the right to legally sell his stash of rhino horns.
To help impede the act of poaching, every two years he wrangles his flock and cuts their horns, as this makes the animal less desirable for poaching. These horns are then boxed up and stored away because international law forbids their outright sale. Outspoken and garish about his position, Trophy makes his scenario seem like something straight out of a Kafka novel … or perhaps more strikingly like a man slowly dehydrating in a salt water seabed.
The other man largely profiled is anti-poaching expert Chris Moore. Situated uncomfortably between both edges of the equation already drawn between Glass and Hume, his confusion, anger and sadness over the question of big game hunting is perhaps the most prescient. Moore adores the statuesque animals he has to occasionally kill, and he’s equally vehement about catching poachers in the middle of the night by stationing his team in the perfect place on a road where he’s sure the poachers must return upon. Sprinkled throughout the more grandiose adventures of Glass and Hume, it’s Moore’s vision that resonates the most.
All of these stories are interesting and have extreme merit, however, the key problem with Trophy is its lack of focus. Any one of these three men and their outlook on nature’s viability and sustainability could have fashioned an intriguing film of their own. By melding all three together, something gets lost in translation. Just when one of their stories gets interesting, the film moves on to something else.
By choosing to straddle this soft center, Trophy becomes little more than an educational effort, which perhaps is exactly the type of approach its CNN Films production arm wanted. It tells a complicated story through complacent methods. And watching a man wrangle an alligator into a harness while another hunter walks up and shoots it is pretty far from complacent.
Trophy opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, September 29 at the AMC Dine-In 30 Grapevine Mills.